Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Firstly, let me apologise semi-preemptively. I didn't post yesterday. That's because when I should have been writing a post, I was out with my neighbours for our last lunch, and then I was out with one of my schools for an end-of-term-1 drinking party.

Summer is pretty crazy for me. Staff drinking parties. Goodbye parties for ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) returning home. Welcome parties for new ALTs. New ALT orientations (Tokyo and Morioka). Taking off to Hokkaido for the Sapporo summer festival (and hopefully a self-imposed writer retreat). Write On Con. Biggest Japanese drum parade in the world in Morioka, my prefectural capital. And my town festival, for 3 days, the last weekend in August.

Just typing it all is exhausting.

I'm telling you that because it involves a lot of not being in my house, or even in my town. Which means I can't really guarantee the 3 or 4 posts per week that I usually do.


As a writer, I keep a few notebooks, each with a different purpose.


Ideally a sparkbook is tiny. It can fit in your smallest purse. This notebook is just right for jotting down single sentences or phrases to remind you of some spark of an idea that you had. I tend to jot down one or two lines about an idea, and then leave it in my brain to ferment. The way I figure it, if it can't keep my attention for a few days/weeks, then there's no way I can keep engaged enough to write it.


The Incidentals Notebook is a book full of bits and pieces from real life. That party anecdote about the time one of the kindergarteners was over-enthusiastic during a performance of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and flipped right off the stage. (Yes, it happened.) Interesting comments that you see on Facebook. Quotable things you say or hear. Jobs that sound interesting. The perfect name for a future character. Interesting stories you read in the newspaper.

The Incidentals notebook can really be a set of more specific notebooks. For example, if you write humour, you might have a Incidental Humour Book- filled with hilarious things you've seen or done, one liners, and stories you've heard. You can tailor-make the Incidentals Book(s) to your needs.


Writing fiction requires a lot of research, especially if the book's characters and plot have little in common with you and your life. MS3's MC wants to be a forensic pathologist. All I know about forensic pathology I learned from MURDER, SHE WROTE and CSI. Jazz is the sort of person that knows everything about anything she's interested in. Which, for me, means I need to know as much as I can without ever setting foot in the field.

In the research notebook, I write down important points. It's not about writing out the entire theory behind forensic pathology. I just need to have information all in one place. If I need more depth I can return to the source.


I'm a character writer. (I scream this from the rooftops every other minute, so if you didn't know, I guess you're new. Welcome aboard!)So my characters get notebooks. This has evolved to the point where every POV MC gets their own book. I write out a stack of questions and then answer them from the MC's perspective. Some of the questions are physical (features, coke or pepsi, favourite colour) and some are abstract (best memory, dreams, things they feel guilty about) and everything in between. As I re-read and prepare to edit, I also add pictures of things that are important to the MC, and a pic of the MC herself/himself.

Major secondary characters go in two to a book. I like to know my secondary characters almost as well as my MCs, because the MC interacts with them a lot. All the other characters get a page in the last character notebook. I write their full names, ages, their connection to the MC, job, etc.

MS Book
The final notebook that I employ is the MS (manuscript) book. All the other tidbits that don't go in the research or character notebooks, but are specific to the MS are in here. MS3 takes place mainly in a school, so in the MS Book, I drew up a daily schedule to keep track of who had which classes with who, and what days the classes were on.

Other things you might put in an MS book: plot points, macro and micro settings, pictures, etc.


The books I've listed above are the ones I keep, but you can add or subtract as you see fit. I'm a character writer so I have a crapload of character notebooks. If you're a plot writer, you may want to keep a plot book. If you're writing SF/F (Science Fiction/Fantasy), you're building a world pretty much from scratch, and you may want ot keep the details in a setting notebook.


When you write in the notebooks is entirely up to you. I mentioned for example, that I add pictures to the character books AFTER my first draft. I'm a pantser who's not much for visuals, so it works for me. If you're a plotter or a very visual writer, you'll probably want pics from the start.

Also, as a pantser, the only one of my MS-specific notebooks that has a lot of info before I start writing is the character book. The research and MS books get info after the first draft. Then I commit all the info to my brain, and start on my re-write.

If you're a plotter, you may prefer to fill up all these notebooks and more before you type/write a single letter.

Your call.


No, they don't actually have to be physical notebooks, with the exception of the Sparks book. You'll want your Sparks book with you everywhere. Granted you could just use your phone and text/mail yourself, but it's easier to have a tiny notebook.

All the other 'books' can be files on your computer, or huge wall-sized butcher paper if you prefer. I personally like notebooks and I think the act of physically writing it out helps.

Do you, as a writer, keep notebooks?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You're a party animal!
I just use one notebook where I keep everything. If I had more than one, I'd just lose them.

Sophia Richardson said...

I use one notebook at a time, but it makes organisation a little bit. . . nonexistent. I don't think I could have multiple notebooks on the go, I'd end up getting character ideas while I only had my plotting notebook on me or something. I do have the digital equivalent of different files for different scraps, though.

Marsha Sigman said...

That's a hell of a lot of paper!lol

I have a small notebook in purse. A notepad within my planner that I carry with purse, always.

And a big notebook at home...and a scary stack of post it notes. SCARY.

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